Muldoon in Fiction: Politicians and Intellectuals

This is a revised version of the paper presented to the Stout Research Centre Wednesday Seminar, 9 August, 1995. Other versions are ‘Piggy in the Middle’ Metro August 1996, p.82-7, and ‘Muldoon, Robert’ in R. Robinson & N. Wattie (eds) The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature, Auckland, p.384-5.

Keywords: Literature and Culture; Political Economy & History;

Bill Pearson’s 1952 Landfall essay “Fretful Sleepers: A Sketch of New Zealand Behaviour and its Implications for the Artist” argues:

“No people is easier for governing. Though `Hitler’ and `dictator’ are common as terms of abuse (usually applied to a foreman who puts production before sociability) there is a lurking respect for the dictator because he has all the authority and gets things done. When the Upper House went no one cared. It was only workers of the big unions, and the watersiders themselves, who were concerned at Mr Holland’s emergency regulations, and a few intellectuals. Fascism has long been a danger potential in New Zealand. Of course fascism does not just occur: it is a deliberate strategy used by money-makers threatened with social discontent. But in countries nominally democratic, fascists have first to prepare the ground. In New Zealand the ground is already prepared for these conditions: a docile sleepy electorate, veneration of war-heros, a willingness to persecute those who don’t conform, gullibility in the face of headlines and radio peptalks.” (p.3-4) [1]

Some of the instances in this passage, as well as others in the essay, have an archaic ring. Other parts have a contemporary ring – lurking respect for the dictator, the treatment of intellectuals, the docility of the electorate, the willingness to persecute those who do not conform, all have a contemporary familiarity – although it is difficult to judge whether these phenomena have increased or decreased over time.

There is perhaps in most societies a tendency towards fascism, or what might better be called the tyranny of the majority at the expense of the minority, reinforced by a positive regard for the despot who gets things done. That does not deny its significance to New Zealand. It may well be that in frontier societies such as New Zealand there is more respect for the practical and less for the intellectual – for things rather than ideas – than in the countries from which the majority of settlers came.

Pearson’s potential dictator at the time of writing was Sidney Holland. One can easily nominate earlier prime ministers who displayed a similar level of political tyranny when it suited them – Seddon,[2] Ward, Massey, Savage,[3] Fraser – although Pearson makes little reference to this repeated pattern. Each generation seems to create its own demonology, forgetting earlier ones.[4] So for the first thirty years of the post-war era the putative dictator was presented as Holland, especially as it proved difficult to hang the charge on the other long-running prime-minister, Keith Holyoake. James K. Baxter tried in his 1967 ballad “a death song to mr mouldybroke”, which excoriated the government for its involvement in the Vietnam War, even though Holyoake managed – brilliantly, I am told – to commit New Zealand to the absolute minimum necessary to satisfy the US.

And yet Baxter presages a new dictator, for “Mouldybroke” is a portmanteau of Muldoon and Holyoake, with Robert Muldoon already becoming prominent, for his fierce defence of American policies on, and promotion of, sending New Zealand soldiers to Vietnam. But almost certainly the New Zealand politician that C.K. (Karl) Stead had in mind when he portrayed Volkner (he has no first name) as a dictator in Smith’s Dream was Holland, prime minister during the 1951 waterfront dispute,[5] although Stead probably also intended references to some foreign dictators – Hitler, Mussolini, Franco. By the time Smith’s Dream was made into a film, the image of Muldoon as the New Zealand despot par excellence was so set in the new generation’s mind that Volkner becomes a thinly disguised Muldoon in the film. This led to an exchange between Stead and Muldoon, which Stead reports:

“[T]he only time I met Muldoon he told me he’d arranged for a private showing of the movie made from the novel … ‘because people were saying it was about me’. He was on an official visit to the university when he told me and, trying to be a good host, I said ‘You were only a cabinet minister, fairly junior, I think, when I was writing that book.’
(One imagines that Muldoon grimaced. Stead goes on…)
My wife said ‘Yes, you’ve just grown into the role.’ Muldoon hoisted his cheek and laughed his ‘we are not very amused’ laugh.” (pers. comm. 19.1.95.)

There is a truth in Kay Stead’s riposte, insofar as the intellectual community needed a successor to Holland, and Muldoon willing took over the chore.[6]

This image of Muldoon as dictator is one of the icons of literature in the 1970s and early 1980s. Arguably there are at least ten contemporary novels and four plays in which a Muldoon-like character appears. This includes Smith’s Dream, with its presaging a Muldoon-like figure, and giving Stead the claim to be prophet as poet, as it does for Baxter with his Mouldybroke.

(Many other poets incorporate reference to Muldoon including David Eggleton, Sam Hunt, Bill Manhire, and Ian Wedde. Perhaps Vincent O’Sullivan’s “Butcher” poems portray Muldoon as a common man, while his Pilate Tapes (1982) has the dictatorial politician at the heart of the sequence. I will come back to Kevin Ireland. There is a much longer tradition of political commentary by New Zealand poets – with Rex Fairburn and Denis Glover outstanding exponents.)

In contrast to frequent contemporary references to Muldoon, Holland and Norman Kirk appear in novels written over fifteen years after their regime: Holland in Stead’s Smith’s Dream and in All Visitors Ashore (1984), in Maurice Gee’s Plumb (1978) and Meg (1991), and Kevin Ireland’s (1995); Kirk in Michael Wall’s Museum Street (1991). In each case they appeared as “realistic” portrayals.

There is a Holyoake-like figure, “Mr” Sagwell, in O’Sullivan’s Miracle (1976), perhaps with a bit of Jack Marshall. Another appearance is Rt Hon. St John Swindells in Bill Maughan’s Good and Faithful Servants (1974), which includes many thinly disguised Wellington politicians and bureaucrats of the late 1960s (when Maughan was a Treasury official). However the “hero” of the novel is Sir Harry Drinkwater, “the youngest and fattest Turk of them all”.

Not all the appearances characterize tyrannical politicians. Jason Calder’s thriller The Man Who Shot Rob Muldoon (1976) needs a prime-ministerial target. Substituting “Wallace Rowling” in the title reduces the same impact, although this ex-prime minister is mentioned in the novel in references to an (actual) earlier assassination attempt.[8]

One curious appearance in fiction is a dog called Muldoon, in Gee’s Games of Choice (1976). The encounter with the “malevolent” dog, owned by Gunter whose father was a nazi, involves a blood-drawing bite, although it is reported the teeth were not sharp. There are enough references to politicians in the novel, to suggest the choice of names is no coincidence. “[A] last glimpse of Savage, smiling about good times” a few pages earlier resonates with the “hello” at the meeting of the dog.

Other Muldoon-like appearances include the kea boss, Highfeather, in Philip Temple’s Beak of the Moon, “the Prime Minister” in Bob Jones’s The Permit, and Kevin Grogan in Keith Ovenden’s Ratatui (1984).

Is Duggy Plumb of Gee’s Sole Survivor (1983) a Muldoon figure? Muldoon already appears as himself in the novel, perhaps indicating that Gee did not want to have Duggy Plumb equated with Muldoon. The political content of Sole Survivor, as in the case of Ovenden’s novel,[9] has been under valued. Raymond Sole and Duggy Plumb are the grandsons of George Plumb, patriarch and the focus of the eponymous first novel in the trilogy. We recall the biblical injunction that the sins of the father are visited upon the children, unto the third and fourth generations.[10] The political content of the novel becomes a story about what happens two generations after the first Labour government, contrasting the ultimately ineffective Sole with the effective but personally ambitious, rather than principle driven, Plumb. It is a parable of the Fourth Labour Government,[12] and places Gee in the pantheon of poets who are prophets.

It could be argued Muldoon’s economic policies were the third generation of the policies introduced by the first Labour government. However it is idle to argue over how much Muldoon there is in Duggy. The point is this: would Gee have written Duggy Plumb the way he had, if there had been no Muldoon-like politician in the 1970s – if Jack Marshall or Bill Rowling had been prime minister? The answer is surely not. Nevertheless Gee is too fine a novelist for one to conclude that Duggy Plumb is Muldoon.

A similar issue arises with Clean in Greg McGee’s Foreskin’s Lament (1980). Is he modelled on Muldoon? In this case Clean is not a politician, but has some of the ruthless characteristics and ambition associated with Muldoon. Although a later version was updated to include “The Tour” (of 1981), the original play, set in 1976, was written in 1980 before it began. Yet the play was influenced by the Muldoon regime. The characters in the play are those who elected Muldoon in 1975 (and surely supported The Tour five years later). At the very least the play portrays attitudes of New Zealand male which Pearson was concerned with thirty years earlier.

Roger Hall’s The Rose is a play about a New Zealand populous prime minister who has many Muldoon-like features (especially the economic speeches), and the problem of the individual in such an overbearing climate. However Hall instructs that “Leader”, is not to be played as Muldoon, seeking to portray the universal from an illustration of the particular.

Muldoon also appears briefly in Mervyn Thompson’s The Great New Zealand Truth Show (1981), based on editorial material culled from the Truth magazine:

a fanfare. Enter a masked MULDOON.
EDITOR: Thank God for a Prime Minister with the courage and directness of ROB MULDOON! (Applause.) He puts his country and its people before personal comfort and political ambition. These qualities have been evident in his handling of the springbok tour issue in the face of violent opposition and media bias. As Rob himself says, only one paper came out in his favour on this issue:

This is not an entirely unbiased account, given Muldoon was writing a column for the publication, but it nicely captures the flavour of the Rob’s Mob support and rhetoric.

Muldoon as fiction may even be an international phenomenon. An Australian radio drama, A Country Practice had a corrupt local councillor with the name Muldoon. New Zealander Ray Harding, who took over the script in 1983, says that the character was already there. He thinks that while the name could have been coincidental, there were topical in jokes, including a low-life baby sitter was named “Betty Windsor”.

The burst of the political oriented writing which appears in the early eighties, tells us that something was happening about that time. The precipitating factor was surely Muldoon, perhaps magnified by the events surrounding The Tour.[12]

In a more fundamental way the rise of the political novel in the 1970s reflects a changing national perception of politics. From the late 1960s non-fiction works about politics begin to appear.[13] Contemporary political biography begins a little later with John Dunmore’s Norman Kirk: A Portrait (1972). In 1978 Spiro Zavos wrote a less flattering Portrait of Muldoon.

A major contributor to this politics literature was Muldoon himself. Indeed his The Rise and Fall of a Young Turk (1974) seems to be the first autobiography written by a practising New Zealand politician. John A Lee’s fictional Children of the Poor (1933) has autobiographical aspects, but in any case it was published anonymously and does not address his political career. His Simple on a Soapbox (1963) was written after he had retired from politics. The closest contender is Michael Bassett’s Third Labour Government (1976) based on a diary of his period in the government caucus between 1972 and 1975. A year later Muldoon published his second book Muldoon, followed by three further volumes: My Way (1981), The New Zealand Economy: A Personal View (1985), and Number 29 (1986). Other contemporary politicians who have since contributed to this genre include Roger Douglas, David Lange, Ross Meurant, Mike Moore, and Richard Prebble,[14] with more promised (although keeping promises is not a New Zealand politician’s forte).[15]

This outpouring of political writing, fiction and no-fiction, is a part of a literary renaissance which is occurring in New Zealand fiction about the time. There was, however, a special factor which generated a particular type of political literature, as television changed the relationship between politicians and the public. Before it you might meet him (or rarely her) in person, see them on the stump, read them in a newspaper, and hear them on a radio. But with television, love them or hate them – and it is usually the latter – politicians became guests in the living room. Probably the first New Zealand politician to master the art of television presentation was Muldoon.[16] This politics of the personality was reinforced by a weekly column in Truth, and an exuberant participation on talkback radio.

Perceptions of politics changed, a development well captured in a fundamental difference between John Mulgan’s Man Alone and Smith’s Dream. Mulgan sees politics as one of great social forces (which he later parallels with the environmental forces with which Johnson struggles), while Stead has the more personal element of the involvement of Volkner. (Pearson may be halfway between the two.) Politics became personalities, and Muldoon became the personal symbol of a certain type of politics. This is sometimes seen as a shift to presidential politics, but only one other of the four prime ministers since Muldoon was in this mould.

As we have seen from “Fretful Sleepers”, the intellectual community was waiting for someone it could portray as dictator. Until about a decade ago the community was dominated by those with leftish visions. The right thought they had no intellectual firepower. On two occasions I was at academic meetings at which cabinet ministers of the Muldoon government [17] expressed delight they had one friend in the audience implying, wrongly, that the academic community was universally hostile to them. Yet Holyoake’s three lieutenants, Marshall, Tom Shand, and Ralph Hanan, could claim to be as intellectual politicians relative to their times as any before or after. But it has not been until recently that politicians of the right have presented themselves this way.

Even more ironically, there is a sense in which Muldoon was an intellectual, interpreting that term broadly. He wrote five books, he cared deeply about the English language,[18] and he was a member of the parliamentary library committee right to the end of his term in parliament. However he presented himself as anti-intellectual, liking to abuse them in public. His followers – Rob’s Mob – loved him for it. In turn the intellectual community as vehemently portrayed Muldoon as a despot. As the Prime Minister in The Permit argued in a “masterly performance”

“.. the constitutional procedures were not in themselves sacrosanct and must change with changing times. The world moved at a much faster pace today than it had when the parliamentary procedures were formulated and if Governments were expected to behave efficiently then the machinery with which they worked must be modernised. And finally the Prime Minister left his opponent floundering when he said that the ultimate democratic safeguard remained intact. The public’s right to vote a Government out remained unchanged and in the final analysis that was the ultimate security.” (p.31)

This is what Lord Hailsham described as an elected dictatorship. The portrayal of Muldoon as the elected dictator appears in the fiction, the poetry, art, cartoons, and even the kitsch of the times. He became the man who the intellectuals loved to hate, and also the man about whom the crowd were equally fanatically enthusiasts. If Muldoon divided the nation, he divided it into the two groups in “Fretful Sleepers”: intellectuals, and anti-intellectuals.

I recall in the late 1980s one committed Labour supporter (they still existed then) bewailing the record of “her” government, and the betrayal of what she had fought for in campaign after campaign. She consoled herself with “at least we got rid of Muldoon”. She had reason to hold this view – Muldoon abused power, and was often an unpleasant person in public (not to mention on the television set in the living room). But were his successors so much better? Certainly they were pleasanter in public, and did not publicly attack intellectuals (although in private it may have been different matter).

But was not their management of the political process as dictatorial as Muldoon? This is not a central theme of an essay on recent political fiction. But because I do not want to leave the question as a rhetorical one, consider Roger Douglas’s “A lot of politicians, they talk about consensus. I mean really that’s just rubbish … So consensus has to be out, you have to have leadership.”[19] This is a prescription of an authoritarian politician, rather similar to the Prime Minister of Jones’s The Permit. One might well point to Douglas “get[ting] things done” more successfully than Muldoon ever dared. I do not want to pursue all the ramifications here, but it raises the issue of the intellectual community’s response to the post-Muldoon era.

One was to recall how unpleasant Muldoon was. Over time we forget such things, so the memory has to be refurbished, latterly by an extraordinary television program, resplendent with psycho-babble, Muldoon. Its function is partly explained by one of its writers, Louise Callan, was coauthored Douglas’s auto-biography Towards Prosperity (1987), and is described as assisting the writing of Douglas’s Unfinished Business (1993).[20] As the Labour party supporter understood, the first line of defence for Douglas remains that Muldoon was worse.

Second, the intellectual community now includes people of some significance with right wing perspectives – most notably Alan Duff, Roger Kerr, and Simon Upton. This is a new development, which combined with a willingness of the business sector to support such people has tipped the balance away from the total domination leftish intellectuals had had in the past.

In addition the Fourth Labour Government would have thought itself “intellectual”: fifteen of the first twenty cabinet ministers had degrees; five had, or have since, written books; four had held university positions. Whether they were really intellectuals depends on the meaning of the term. Thus far I have used the term as I think Pearson mainly intended it to be used, that is according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary (7th ed.) a “person possessing a good understanding or intelligence, enlightened person”. However if we use the narrower definition of Edward Said in his Reith lecture Representations of an Intellectual (1994), as “the intellectual’s role to represent a message or view not only to but for a public and to do so as an outsider, someone who cannot be coopted by government or corporation”,[21] the Labour government cannot possibly be intellectual.[22] As Noam Chomsky commented, “Edward Said helps us to understand who we are and what we must do if we aspire to be moral agents and not servants of power.”[23] If the Labour government included intellectuals in some sense, then arguably Muldoon was one in that sense too.

I am not the first to have grouped Muldoon and his successors. Kevin Ireland writes in his introduction to Tiberius at the Beehive (1990) “[t]he 1980s saw two intuitively gifted, gloriously larger-than-life New Zealanders go into political exile … The poems consider the Tiberius of old and the composite phantom who carried out his most recent imperial policies”.

Rereading “Fretful Sleepers” one is struck by how critical Pearson is of the intellectual community of the day, both in the description and in the prescription of an alternative. They are almost as pretentious as they are portrayed by the anti-intellectuals, whom Pearson also berates. One might want to argue (or hope) that their veniality is not as serious or as widespread today. More importantly in terms of Said’s definition of those whose role to represent a message or view as an outsider, the intellectual community has not done noticeably well in recent years. That is evident enough in the political fiction.

No longer able to represent the political process as a tyrannical prime minister, the two obviously political novels, Stead’s The End of the Century at the End of the World (1993) and Kidman’s True Stars,[24] look respectively at a politician and politician’s wife in the context of decaying ideals in a disintegrating (Labour) government. What is actually driving the decay is unclear. Perhaps we are returning to a vision of social forces providing a context over which a human has little influence. A return to Marx, or perhaps a Greek tragedy? The mood of both novels is that of my labour supporter friend – bewildered betrayal.

There is no obvious Fourth National Government novel, although Gee’s Crime Story (1994) might be thought of as a political novel without politicians following the privatization of so much state activity. It contrasts the social immorality of the financiers with that of the underclass, although as the denouement shows, Gee has personal moral concerns too. The technical problem is how to portray the phenomenon of rogernomics in fiction. Gee treats one aspect – corporate greed – successfully, but most writers have found the task beyond them. It was much easier to portray the society at the time of Muldoon by embedding political vice in one man.[25]

Owen Marshall’s A Many Coated Man (1995) is also a different kind of political novel, although it is written around a charismatic leader Aldous Slaven, who is clearly not intended to be Muldoon in any significant way. The public response to Slaven is recognizably that of Rob’s Mob and the anti-intellectual New Zealander that “Fretful Sleepers” portrays. The characterization of the tyrannical politicians via the populace who supports him (or her) is a promising, if technically difficult, means of continuing the political discourse in fiction.[27]

The most recent political novel is Natasha Templeton’s The Firebird (1995) written in the tradition of Russian novels, in which every significant character is beset by moral choice. While there are flashbacks, the novel’s present is the 1981 election and its aftermath, especially as it affects a cabinet minister and his wife. The prime minister is a Muldoon-like Howie Hall.[28] While the story provides some interesting accounts of what happened over this period there is not the venom that we have in earlier descriptions of Muldoon-like characters, even though Hall is a very unpleasant man. It would be easy to say that Templeton lacks the malice of earlier writers, but I suspect that having really been there – she is married to a minister in Muldoon’s cabinet – she chose to portray a more complex man than the caricature we found on the television screen.

The careful counter will have noticed that coming to the present day I have reported only nine novels with Muldoon-like characters, although I promised ten. The last is perhaps the most extraordinary case of them all. There is a sense that in Pearson’s Coal Flat’s (1963), Mr Tribe, the victualler’s representative from Wellington, is a Muldoon even though the man himself was not yet on the national scene when the novel was being written.

It seems possible that Pearson knew Muldoon briefly in the 1940s. That encounter influenced his account of Tribe as “a generalised perception of a boss’s man of working class origins, though it is mixed with a generalised sketch of the unsmiling uncultured respectable public man with a small skeleton in the cupboard.”

As Pearson relates:

“In autumn 1945 I was with my unit in the far south of Italy travelling north when I became separated from them through being ill for a few days. On the way to rejoining them I spent several days in a transit camp where I shared a tent with three men who had come to Italy in an earlier reinforcement and were about to return to New Zealand. One of these was a shortish stocky corporal with a thick neck and a big chin. They called him Rob and his surname was a name I hadn’t heard before but it struck me as comic. He was a thoughtful chap, who at first impressed me because his opinions weren’t the same as those of the ordinary soldiers. He had two mates, both a little older but quiet and reflective like himself. Whenever some general question came up that called for some kind of moral vote, they would say `what do you think Rob?’ and Rob would ponder for a while and then deliver his opinion, which was a considered opinion, not the kind of uninformed opinion one was used to from the ordinary soldier. I asked him what he intended to do when he got back home. He said he might go into politics. This excited me because I thought politics was an idealistic vocation, calling for a high mind and liberal aspirations. But he dashed my hopes when he said he would join the National Party. `Why the hell should those bloody wharfies be allowed to go on strike while I’ve been over here risking my life?’ And watching him closely I came to see that his basic prejudices and opinions were no better than those of the ordinary soldier, and I came to the conclusion that it was because he had no tertiary education and never had his preconceptions challenged, or had to examine them as a university student has to. My liking for him came to a sudden end the day before I was to travel north. Among the soldiers in the camp was an old friend I had known at Dunedin Training college and every afternoon he and I would hitch to a wine-bar in a nearby village, missing the daily identity parade which was the only requirement of us in the transit camp. When I came back from an afternoon at Gioia, Corporal Rob assailed me. `We know all about you Pearson, missing parade every day and getting on the piss at Gioia. somebody should put your weights up! [expose your behaviour to the authorities]’ I was shocked because in the army, now that the war in Europe and Japan was finished, a soldier taking a calculated risk in disregarding routine orders did not expect to be denounced by a fellow-soldier. (And in the morning one or two things happened to me that made me think he had put my weights up.)

“However though I never forgot that unpleasant corporal, I forgot his name, and when seven or eight years later I was writing Coal Flat and invented Mr Tribe, I suppose that in a general way I incorporated the popular right-wing radicalism of Rob in Mr Tribe, but it is clear from the physical descriptions I gave Mr Tribe I had a different figure in mind, and if I had thought of my tent-mate of 1945 I would have given Mr Tribe a different physical appearance.

“P.S. ‘Fretful Sleepers’ is partly based on my close contact with NZ troops between 1942 and 1946, not just [Corporal Rob] of course, but he would be included. …

“Mr Tribe I did not see as modelled on any individual I had met but as a sort of generalized construct of my own, embodying an attitude or a tendency. I saw Mr Tribe as representing broadly a move away from old-fashioned conservative probity and a prelude to Sid Holland.” ( pers.comms. 23.2.95 and 6.6.96. original’s emphasis.)

So there is a real sense that Muldoon, if that who Corporal Rob was, is a significant progenitor of “Fretful Sleepers”, moreso than Holland. In which case Pearson is the prophet long before Baxter or Stead – not that priority matters. It would be an extraordinary coincidence though if Corporal Rob were Muldoon, for it would imply the politician impacted on the New Zealand intellectual community from the early 1950s. But even if they are not the same person, the conclusion that Muldoon represented a genre would be reinforced.

With the passing of Muldoon, will there be a passing of the political despot? Already there are politicians who have been marked as Muldoon’s successor – no doubt there are more to come. One might argue that they are much less likely to become prime minister in the future. The Germans adopted MMP to prevent the rise of another Hitler. Moreover there are now examples of other styles of successful New Zealand premiers: Holyoake and Jim Bolger, since he deposed Ruth Richardson, have both been consensus, rather than populist, driven.

But even if the despot cannot practice so easily, the image is unlikely to easily disappear, especially as long as “Rob’s Mob” continues in some form, seeking a populist leader. There remains the division in New Zealand that “Fretful Sleepers” describes: of an anti-intellectual and intolerant public, and an intellectual community which is isolated and yet, as Pearson describes, having a “number of attitudes they have carried over from the community they feel emancipated from” (p.24). There is a superciliousness of many intellectuals towards their fellow men and women. Many will uncritically reject my suggestion that Muldoon had some of the characteristics of the intellectual in its broader sense. The sales of an astonishing 35,000 copies of The Young Turk suggests that “Rob’s Mob” were not all illiterate oafs. Perhaps there is a point of engagement with many of them. It remains to awaken New Zealanders from their fretful sleep.

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I am grateful for comments and assistance from Elizabeth Caffin, Maurice Gee, Barry Gustafson, Roger Hall, Ray Harding, Keith Jackson, Colin James, Lawrence Jones, Fiona Kidman, Malcolm McLean, Vincent Sullivan, Bill Pearson, Roger Robinson, Karl Stead, Jane Vial, and those who attended the seminar at the Stout Research Centre. I am especially grateful for Bill Pearson and Karl Stead allowing me to quote from their correspondence to me.

Added in 2004: Barry Gustafson looked at the possibility of Pearson and Muldoon meeting in Italy while writing Muldoon’s biography. He thinks not.

Works which might be said to contain Robert Muldoon as a character:
B. Pearson, Coal Flat (Heinemann: 1963) – Mr Tribe.
C.K. Stead, Smith’s Dream (Longman Paul: 1971) – Volkner.
W. Maughan, Good and Faithful Servants (Cape Catley: 1974) – Sir Harry Drinkwater.
J. Calder, The Man Who Shot Rob Muldoon (Dunmore: 1976) – in person.
M. Gee, Games of Choice (Faber & Faber, 1976) – dog called Muldoon.
Scriptwriter of A Country Practice (Australian radio drama series, 1980s) – a local councillor called Muldoon.
P. Temple, Beak of the Moon (Collins: 1981) – Highfeather.
G. McGee, Foreskin’s Lament (Price Milburn with VUP:1981 – First played, 1980) – Clean.
M. Thompson, The Great New Zealand Truth Show – (published in Passing Through and Other Plays , Hazard Press:1992- first played 1991) – in person.
R. Hall, The Rose (Playmarket) – Leader.
M. Gee, Sole Survivor (Penguin: 1983) – in person, and Duggy Plumb.
K. Ovenden, Ratatui (Benton Ross: 1984) – Kevin Grogan.
B. Jones, The Permit (Collins: 1984) – The Prime Minister.
N. Templeton, The Firebird (Hodder & Stoughton: 1995) – Howie Hall.

[1] My version is from Fretful Sleepers and other Essays (Heinemann Educational Books, 1973), which reprints the essay republished with corrections in Landfall Country, ed Charles Brasch (Caxton Press, 1960).
[2] Keith Sinclair describes him as “bullying, rude and crude.” One cannot help wondering whether Sinclair had a contemporary example in mind when he wrote this.
[3] Stead says that he “once told John A Lee that Volkner had some of the characteristics of Savage. I meant, of course, not V’s right wing ideology, but his avuncular radio manner; but Lee was so pleased by this that he told other people that Volkner was a portrait of Savage as a dictator.” pers. comm. 19.1.1995.
[4] The first sequence in Bill Oliver’s Poor Richard (1982) ends “Poor Richard. William. Michael. Norman. Rob.”
[5] See L. Jones “From Fretful Sleepers to Juice Extractors: Versions of the 1951 Waterfront Dispute in New Zealand Writing, 1952-1986”, in Journal of New Zealand Literature, December 1994, p.135-159, for an account of the literary response to the Waterfront Dispute.
[6] Robert David Muldoon (1921-1993), member of parliament 1960-1992, prime minister 1976-1984.
[7] Muldoon also appeared in person as the narrator (?) in a version of The Rocky Horror Show in the mid 1980s. Who was sending up who?
[8] Possibly at the time the book was conceived the prime minister was Norman Kirk. Even so the title with “Norm Kirk” would not have had the same menace.
[9] Ratatui characterizes the Wellington Network, that collection of intricate personal and political relations which are integral to the political process in New Zealand. If Maughan humorously portrays the Network: Ovenden seriously describes it – he is, after all, a political scientist.
[10] Exodus 20:5, 34:7; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9.
[11] Roger Douglas is the son and grandson of Labour MPs.
[12] Marilyn Duckworth’s Disorderly Conduct (1984) and Fiona Kidman’s True Stars (1990) are Muldoon-less accounts of The Tour. So might be Stead’s All Visitors Ashore, with Holland as a proxy for Muldoon.
[13] Perhaps the first book was Bob Chapman, Keith Jackson, and Austin Mitchell’s New Zealand Politics in Action: The 1960 General Election (1963), primarily for an academic audience, with Ian Templeton’s and Keith Eunson’s Election ’69 (1969) the first popular book.
[14] Both Geoffrey Palmer and Simon Upton have written non-autobiographical books on political issues.
[15] Retired politicians who have written memoirs include Lee, Marshall, Ruth Richardson, and Hugh Templeton. Lee also wrote The Politician in, perhaps, the 1970s but not published until 1987.
[16] Were the Vietnam debates the public’s first major experience of the “real Muldoon”?
[17] Les Gander and George Gair.
[18] e.g. Muldoon, p.14.
[19] Analysis: Shrinking of the State, BBC News and Current Affairs, 13 July 1995, p.15-16. For a more detailed account of the Douglas philosophy see Roger O. Douglas, Unfinished Business (Auckland, 1993), p.215-238, and Easton, B.H. “How Did the Health Reforms Blitzkrieg Fail?” Political Science, Vol 46, No 2, December 1994, p.214-233.
[20] “… to Louise Callen, who wrote the book with me …” (
[21] This summary comes from the book cover.
[22] One must report that Said also shifts between these two accounts of the intellectual’s role in his lectures.
[23] Also on the cover.
[24] True Stars might well be ‘woman alone’.
[25] It is perhaps instructive that the sequels to the Temple and Ovenden novels, Dark of the Moon (1993) and O.E. (1986) are less political novels in the sense we are considering here.
[26] Another honourable exception is Patricia Grace’s Potiki (1986), written at the end of the Muldoon era, which has little reference to malevolent individuals, but like Crime Story the pressures come from “fast money”. However it is local rather than national politics.
[27] Surely it is a coincidence that Howie (Peet) is also character in Crime Story? One might want to draw links between the prime minister in 1981 and the financier a decade later, but I think not.

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